LXB | Baseball Season

First of all, I’m sorry I’ve been a bad blogger the last two days. There’s no drama and I’m still employed, but I’m looking for a new day job and that’s taking up quite a bit of time. I love my current gig, but it’s not going to turn into what I hoped it would, so with the complete blessing and support of my awesome boss, I need to find something else. I’m going to try to double up on posts today and tomorrow to make up for Monday and Tuesday.

I’m still catching up to the League of Extraordinary Bloggers and my next late assignment is an open-ended one about baseball:

Take me out to the ball game! America’s past time has been prominently featured in pop culture for over a century, so this week, we’re talking baseball!

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m not a big sports fan. I grew up in Tallahassee, so I have very fond memories of going to Florida State football games with my friends, but I haven’t stayed motivated to keep up with the Seminoles in a serious way since I moved from there. Now that I live in Minnesota, I’ve been to a handful of Twins and Saints games, several Wild games, and a Timberwolves game, but that’s about the atmosphere and hanging out with people I like. I understand the rules and cheer loudly for the home team, but I can’t get into the players and the stats. In other words, I’m a casual sports watcher.

That said, I do love me a sports movie and that includes baseball. Favorites include Major League, A League of Their Own, and Bull Durham. But really, when I think about baseball and pop culture, I always go first to good ol’ Charlie Brown. The Peanuts defined Americana for me as a kid and their neighborhood games romanticized baseball more than any film ever could.

 
 

The next thing I think of in reference to baseball is always the last 1:10 of Chuck Jones and Co.’s “Duck! Rabbit, Duck!”

Some of the other League members came up with some baseball references I can relate to. Team Hellions talked about a baseball-themed West Coast Avengers comic and reminded me of all those fun baseball games the X-Men used to play between epic story arcs. I used to love those issues where the team would try (and fail) to play without using their powers. Cavalcade of Awesome and Red-Headed Mule both put together dream teams of movie baseball players; an awesome idea. And Lair of the Dork Horde reminded me of the batting helmet ice cream bowls we used to get and collect in the ’80s (and those awesome-at-the-time handheld baseball video games).

How about you? What – if anything – does baseball mean to you?

12 Movies I Liked a Lot in 2011

20. The Lincoln Lawyer

I was in the mood for a legal drama and this is a straight thriller, but it’s a very good one (a couple of plot holes notwithstanding). Matthew McConaughey is awesome in this kind of thing.

19. The Thing

I don’t understand why people are confused about whether this is a remake or a prequel. It’s clearly a prequel; it just hits a lot of the same beats that the John Carpenter version did. It doesn’t do some things as well as Carpenter did (the monster test comes to mind), but it’s still effective and the CGI monsters look better than most of Carpenter’s practical effects. Also, the nerd in me loves how seamlessly the two films connect. They’re really two halves of one movie.

18. Drive

The more I think about Drive, the more I like it. Even going into it knowing that it was an artsy thriller, it still took some time for the film to sink in and work on me. It’s touching, horrific, tragic, and unconventionally heroic.

17. Horrible Bosses

Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudekis are all charming and likable in this, but they’re upstaged by Colin Farrell and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Jennifer Aniston who are hilarious. Kevin Spacey is also good, but I’ve seen him play this kind of prick before, so it wasn’t as surprising. The real show-stealer was Jamie Foxx. From his character’s name to the way he sips his soda, he was the funniest character I’ve seen in a movie all year.

16. Bad Teacher

At last, a reason to like Cameron Diaz again. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s surrounded by some of my favorite comedic actors: Jason Segel, Phyllis Smith, Eric Stonestreet, Thomas Lennon, and (after this film) Lucy Punch and Justin Timberlake. Building a story around an unlikable character is a tricky proposition for me, but they made it work.

15. Super 8

I was a little let down by the ending, but otherwise this movie had a touching story, humor, some stereotype-breaking characters, and great performances by the kids and The World’s Most Handsome Actor. It also took me back to the ’80s and that’s a place I always enjoy visiting.

14. Puss in Boots

I’m a little afraid to watch this again for fear it won’t be as funny the second time, but I had a blast with this movie. Lots of swashbuckling and it’s hilarious, especially for people who’ve spent much time around cats.

13. X-Men: First Class

I was very nervous about this one after they began announcing the cast and the massive number of mutant characters that are in it. I had X-Men 3 flashbacks. Surprisingly, it’s a focused story with a specific point that it makes well. Awesome performances by James McAvoy and (especially) Michael Fassbender too.

12. The Three Musketeers

Not the weightiest adaptation of The Three Musketeers ever, but why should it be? Hits most of the main story beats while adding lots of steampunk and butt-kicking Milady. My only gripe (though it’s a significant one) is that the Miladay/Athos relationship is changed enough to rob their story of its power. That’s one of the best, most heartbreaking parts of the novel and I’m sorry it got left out. But I’m happy about the war-dirigibles.

11. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

From a story standpoint: the best Mission: Impossible movie yet. I miss Maggie Q though.

10. Captain America: The First Avenger

Lots of pulpy awesomeness and great performances by everyone. I’m not into the costume and I’m disappointed that the script doesn’t give Chris Evans time to develop convincingly into the inspirational leader that I associate with Cap, but even if he doesn’t feel exactly like Captain America to me, I still like this character.

9. Thor

This, on the other hand, felt exactly like Thor to me. Chris Hemsworth was perfect and the script wonderfully balanced the Earth and Asgard settings in an impressive way. The Thor comics I’ve read have rarely made that work as well. Certainly Green Lantern didn’t with Earth and Oa. Thor had character development that reflected the comics and Natalie Portman made me believe why Earth might compete for his allegiance. Also: Kat Dennings stole every scene she was in.

The Marvel 52, Part Four: Marvel Knights

I’ve never been especially fond of the name “Marvel Knights,” but I don’t hate it either and since Marvel’s used it a couple of times to identify its street-level, edgier characters, it’s recognizable. So I’ll use it too.

22. Dakota North by Ed Brubaker and Phil Noto

I don’t know much about Dakota North. I don’t think I’ve ever read one of her adventures, but she’s a private eye working in the Marvel U and that could be a lot of fun. Maybe it’s similar to Alias – I’ve never read it either – but with Brubaker writing it, it could be a fun, adventurous, Marvel version of something like Gotham Central. I picked Phil Noto for the art because he knows how to give female characters cool attitude without making them obnoxious.

21. Kraven the Hunter by Gail Simone and Marian Churchland

I admit that I picked Gail Simone for this because of the wonders she worked on Catman and because Kraven’s a similar character. But visually, Kraven’s much cooler and I’d love to see her do something comparable with him; give him some kind of moral center instead of just being whackadoo. Marian Churchland’s soft, elegant work would give the series a pastoral look that would reinforce the idea that Kraven’s seeking peace, even when he’s involved in violence.

20. Hercules by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, LeUyen Pham, and Alex Puvilland

There are a few reasons I’m not reading the current Herc series; none of them having anything directly to do with the creators involved. Indirectly though, I wouldn’t be able to pass up a Hercules series drawn by the wife-and-husband team (I think they’re married; doesn’t matter) of LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland (Prince of Persia, Solomon’s Thieves). They’ve got a strong, mythic quality to their work that’s totally unique and exciting.

As for why Hercules is in this category: it’s a tonal thing. He was the original street-level hero. In Greek mythology – a world filled with iconic, superpowered beings – Hercules was the grounded one whom people could relate to. That feeling is important to who he is and last time I checked in, Pak and Lente were already doing a great job of presenting him that way.

19. Shang Chi: Master of Kung Fu by Phil Hester and Mark Smylie

I love Phil Hester’s writing because there’s always a layer of something deeper going on underneath the action. That’s crucial to Master of Kung Fu, a series that in the ’70s was filled with as much thought and philosophy as martial arts and espionage. Mark Smylie (Artesia) would complement that balance beautifully. He can paint the most brutally violent battle scene in the most exquisitely lush and contemplative way.

18. The Falcon by Greg Rucka and Steve Rude

The Falcon is one of those characters I wish I knew more about and would totally jump on if some exciting creators told a story about him. He’s got a great look and I’ve loved him in Captain America and on Super Hero Squad, but I’d love even more to get him away from the other superheroes and see what makes him tick. I think Rucka and Rude are the guys to do that.

17. The Sub-Mariner by Ed Brubaker and David Petersen

Some of you have already pointed out that Namor would fit in well in other categories and you’re right. He’s a versatile character. I’ve put him in Marvel Knights in great part because of his attitude. I like Namor a lot, but he’s a nasty dude with some serious problems he needs to get figured out. I’d certainly want this to have some great, undersea adventure to it, but I’d love for the tone to be similar to what Brubaker did with Captain America. It’s exciting and fun, but it’s grounded in real emotion as Cap continues to struggle – even after all these years – with being a man out of his own time. Namor’s dealing with even more than that.

I picked David Petersen because he’s got a realistic style and could draw the hell out of some undersea life.

16. The Panther by Mark Waid and Amy Reeder

One of the things I love most about Waid is that he knows how to dig into a character and find the approach that best suits that character’s strengths without having to go off in a radical, new direction. Recently, Black Panther has changed gender, painted himself like the US flag, and borrowed Daredevil’s tag line, so it’s pretty clear that he’s lost his way and needs someone to center him again. That’s why Waid. Meanwhile, Amy Reeder (Madame Xanadu) has a sleek, romantic style that could be really cool for a series about a jungle king who dresses like a cat.

You’ve noticed that I dropped the “Black” from the title. I don’t think it needs it, but I could be persuaded differently if it helps identify him as a black character. Unlike Falcon, when he’s in costume you can’t tell just by looking at him.

15. She-Hulk by Peter David and Cameron Stewart

Peter David’s an underrated writer these days and his time on She-Hulk was done too soon. He inherited the character at a time when she was just coming off the tragic events of Civil War and World War Hulk and not only did he deal with that, he made her dealing with it an integral part of the story he was telling. He was also vocal though about wanting to eventually move past that to get back to the light-hearted She-Hulk he really wanted to write. The series was cancelled though and he never got the chance. I wanted to read those stories, so I’d bring him back. Artwise, I’ve been a big fan of Cameron Stewart since I discovered The Apocalipstix and would love to see him draw this.

14. Daredevil and Elektra by Mark Waid and Hub

Like Wolverine, Daredevil’s another character I don’t have a lot of affection for, but it wouldn’t really be Marvel without a series that featured him. I haven’t read Mark Waid and Marcos Martin’s current run at Daredevil, but I’m not surprised to hear that it’s very good. In order to make this interesting for me, I’d keep Waid on it, but turn it into another two-character team-up book by having Elektra co-star. Not that I’m a big Elektra fan either, but the two of them together may be more interesting than either of them separately.

The final push though would come from having Hub (Okko) on art. As great as Martin is, I can’t not buy a book by Hub. He’s also really excellent at depicting a fantastic version of Southeast Asia that could come in…er, Hand-y (sorry) when doing a book about a couple of ninjas.

13. The Champions by Kurt Busiek and Becky Cloonan

The founding line-up for this short-lived team was Black Widow, Hercules, Ghost Rider, Angel, and Iceman. The Russian superhero Darkstar joined later. I didn’t read this as a kid, but discovered it later thanks to my fondness for Black Widow. It’s pretty cool that she was leading this team in the ’70s. That’s not as unique an idea now as it was then, but the line-up of characters is still unexpected and weird, especially having Ghost Rider on board.

Angel and Iceman aren’t quite as interesting now as they were when the team debuted either. They were fresh out of the X-Men after the All-New All-Different team sort of pushed them out and they had something to prove. They were looking for a new home and since they were going through it together, they were able to talk about it and compare their new team to their old one. I don’t know if I’d use the same two characters today, but maybe someone comparable. Characters who are immediately identifiable as X-Men, but could reasonably feel pushed out of that group for some reason. It sort of needs to be former X-Men because while that’s not the most familial group of superheroes Marvel has (that would be the Fantastic Four), it’s a big enough family that there are by necessity fringe members. Gambit and Psylocke might be good choices. Maybe Jubilee? Someone who’s been central to the team in the past, but isn’t anymore. It could be interesting watching them to try to adapt to life outside an X-group.

Anyway, Busiek is a writer who loves to try new things and would be perfect for this. Becky Cloonan has a gorgeous, gritty style that would work well for this street-level team as well.

On Monday, we’ll wrap up with the last 12 titles: Marvel Heroes.

The Marvel 52, Part Three: The X-Men

One of the frustrating things about the X-Men titles has always been the over-abundance of them. This is a problem with superhero comics in general. If people really like one series, they’ll certainly buy three more series with the same character. And while that’s apparently true economically, it’s something I’d stay away from in my who-cares-if-they-make-money Marvel 52. There will be no Spider-Man line, no multiple titles for Thor or Captain America just because they have movies coming out this year. That’s one of the advantages of not having to worry about things like actual sales.

The X-Men are a little different though.There’s certainly enough going on in their corner of the Marvel Universe to warrant ten titles, but even so I tried to be sparing about the number of team books, giving the bulk of my spots to solo titles and a couple of two-character team-ups.

32. X-Statix by Peter Milligan and Mike Allred

I’m ashamed to say that I missed this the first time around, but I can blame that completely on the number of other X-Men series I was buying at the time. This weird, highly critically acclaimed series got lost in the madness for me, but it’s exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for now and I’d like another shot at it.

31. Namora and Marrina by Jeff Parker and Aaron Renier

I always loved team-up books as a kid. Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-in-OneBrave and the Bold. What I don’t think I’ve ever seen though was an ongoing series featuring the same two characters teamed up every month. I’m not counting two-person teams that were created to go together like Hawk and Dove or Cloak and Dagger. I’m talking about characters who were created independently of each other, but could share a title for thematic reasons. There’ve been plenty of mini-series like The Vision and the Scarlet Witch or Hawkeye and Mockingbird, but no ongoings and I’m not sure why. I’d love to give it a try.

Namora and Marrina seem like a really cool pairing. Both are underwater characters and outsiders to the Marvel Universe. Namora was missing for 50 or 60 years and is still reacquainting herself with current events. Marrina’s been out of action for not quite that long, but her alien nature and tragic history makes her even more remote from other Marvel characters. I’d love to see a series in which these two women rely on each other, with Namora perhaps acting as a mentor for younger Marrina. And since they’ve both been romantically involved with Sub-Mariner at some point, there’s some built-in drama already waiting to be exploited.

Jeff Parker knows Namora better than anyone else and I can think of no one else outside of Fred Van Lente and Greg Pak whom I’d rather see write the modern version of Marrina. If you’ve read The Unsinkable Walker Bean, you know that Aaron Renier’s the perfect guy for an ocean adventure series.

I may need to defend why I’m calling this an X-Men book. Namora’s related (genetically and thematically) to Namor, who’s Marvel’s “first mutant” and whose most recent series was nominally an X-title; Marrina is a member of Alpha Flight, an X-Men spin-off. Which brings me to…

30. Sasquatch and Puck by John Rozum and Jason Copland


These two characters have worked well together since Alpha Flight #1. They’re bickering opposites (Sasquatch is the educated strongman; Puck is the rough-edged acrobat) so this would be a fantastic buddy-series. John Rozum (Midnight Mass, Xombi) knows a thing or eighteen about writing banter while keeping the action moving and I need to see Jason Copland (Kill All Monsters) draw some Alpha Flight characters on a regular basis.

29. Alpha Flight by Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak, and John Byrne

Absolutely no offense intended to Dale Eaglesham, who’s doing a fine job on the current Alpha Flight, but it was John Byrne and Alpha Flight that pushed me from casual comics reader to bona fide comics nerd. His representations of those characters are definitive and I’d love to see him draw them again.

28. Kitty Pryde by Jen Wang and Kate Beaton

This replaces all the New Mutants and Young X-Men Academy Whatnot books for me. It’s a YA series about a young Kitty Pryde in her early days at Xavier’s. Because it’s for younger readers, damn the continuity and fill Xavier’s with other classmates for her to interact with. But it doesn’t have to be just high school drama. She could also go on adventures with various X-Men (preferably one-on-one) to keep things interesting.

Jen Wang (Koko Be Good) and Kate Beaton would keep this light and fun.

27. Jean Grey by G Willow Wilson and Ryan Kelly

I’m not a huge fan of Jean Grey, but I could be. She’s got a rich history and interesting powers; she just gets killed off and sidelined so much that I’ve never had a chance to grow as fond of her as I think she probably deserves. So I’d love to bring her back from the dead again (she’s still dead, right?), get her away from Scott, and see what makes her tick. Since it’s a character study, I’d just turn Wilson (Air, Mystic) loose and see where she went. And Ryan Kelly‘s incredibly grounded, yet exciting art would be perfect for it.

26. Nightcrawler by Paul Tobin and Ted Naifeh

Total, genre-crossing swashbuckler. Let Paul Tobin go nuts. Why this hasn’t happened already, I don’t know. And Ted Naifeh‘s perfect for putting a demonic-looking hero into all sorts of thrilling settings.

25. Rogue by Vera Brosgol and Chris Bachalo

Though I’m not at all current on what she’s been up to the last couple of years, Rogue’s been my favorite X-Man for a long, long time. She’s pretty angsty and melancholy, and Brosgol’s (Anya’s Ghost) good at balancing that with humor so that it doesn’t become depressing. And no one draws Rogue like Chris Bachalo.

24. Wolverine by Peter Milligan and Kody Chamberlain

Honestly, there are a few series that made my 52 just because it wouldn’t be Marvel Comics without them. I’m so over-exposed on Wolverine that it’s hard to think of an approach that would make me excited about him. I bet Milligan could though, if he was turned loose. He’s got a strange approach to comics and Wolverine can use something different. Kody‘s (Shang ChiSweets) got a great, loose style that’ll keep the comic interesting and exciting to look at.

23. The X-Men by Rich Koslowski and Art Adams

I always like the X-Men best when there’s a thick slather of serious melodrama over the trips into space and evil mutant fights. I’m not being sarcastic; that dark tone is right there in their charter: Sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them. But it also needs to know when to have some fun and that’s where Rich Koslowski (Three Fingers, The King, BB Wolf and Three LPs) comes in. All of his work takes fun, goofy concepts (Mickey Mouse’s tell-all story about his early career at Disney, an Elvis impersonator who may not be impersonating, a jazz-age retelling of The Three Little Pigs) and throws a dark veil over them that makes you think without weighting the whole thing down. As for Art Adams…well, he’s Art Freaking Adams.

If I were really doing this, I’d have some long discussions with Rich about which characters we wanted to include, but since this is fantasy, my dream line-up would be Cyclops, Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Beast, and Emma Frost. With frequent appearances by Kitty, because she’s totally in love with Colossus.

I’m taking a break from this tomorrow and Thursday to focus on Westerns and cephalopods, but I’ll be back to in on Friday with Marvel Knights.

Fans and Crap

Using Uncanny X-Men and Twilight as a jumping off point, Curt Purcell offers a fascinating theory as to why fans love so much crap. In fact, he goes so far as to suggest that crappy storytelling may be better suited to create fans than quality storytelling. He introduces his discussion this way:

X-fans won’t thank me for drawing this comparison, but I was reminded [..] of [the] extended, ferocious mockery of the Twilight series […] There, too, we have something much beloved by legions of fans, that seems to positively invite every nasty thing any hater has to say about it. Twilight actually prompted a lot of head-scratching and even soul-searching among feminist critics who couldn’t see past its myriad problems, but nevertheless felt reluctant to dismiss outright something loved so intensely by so many female readers. There was genuine effort to understand what fans got out of it. And no matter what the answer, the question remained–couldn’t those fans get that from something better?

Well, maybe not.

Purcell offers a lot of psychology to support his theory, but the core of it is this: when we read or watch something that we like, the existence of crappy elements in it forces us to ignore the crap and focus more attention on the parts we like. That intense refocusing then causes us to invest more heavily in the story than we otherwise would have.

It’s extremely interesting to think about. I didn’t buy it at first, but the more I try to poke holes in it, the more I think Purcell’s on to something. It’s true that whenever we’re reading or watching a story for the first time, we haven’t already made up our minds about whether or not we like it. It’s also true that any alert, critical reader or viewer will be turned off by weak, crappy storytelling. It’s hard to imagine such a reader’s being redirected (even subconsciously) by the sheer existence of crap to a greater emphasis on the good parts.

But it’s also true that most hardcore fans are born at a young age; often before they even become teens. They’re not reading critically, so Purcell’s theory comes into play. And by the time they’ve achieved the ability to think about things like quality and craft, nostalgia and habit have so taken hold that it’s difficult to approach that same story objectively. Purcell’s theory activates again, but on a more (though perhaps not fully) conscious level. Now I don’t want to see the flaws. Or, as Purcell observes, I see them and rationalize them as being “part of the charm” of the story.

I know this is true in my own experience. As a kid, I was very hard on critics. I didn’t think they liked anything. “Movie critics must hate movies,” I figured. Why else would they poke holes in perfectly decent films that I liked? I hear the same kind of comments from my teen-aged friends today.

What I also notice today is that I’m not a fan of stuff anymore. Not in the true sense of the word where I’m so in love with something that I’ll keep reading or watching it past its expiration date. I still love certain stories, but if I start noticing that they’re crap, I’ll quit them and move on to something I like more. I’ve lost the ability to redirect my attention to the good parts, so I’ve also lost the ability to become a “fan.” Fortunately, it’s a loss that I’m perfectly happy with.